ReelAbilities Film Festival 2020: CODE OF THE FREAKS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

My festival coverage continues with an insightful documentary that examines Hollywood’s obsession with the disabled. Featuring candid interviews with intelligent disabled people, director Salome Chasnoff takes a good, hard look at disabled tropes in cinema, some of the various formulaic stories that are often told and retold, and how real people with various disabilities feel about these movies. The film not only serves as a history lesson of cinema involving disabled characters, it offers a smart, but biting commentary on the exploitative and often insulting ways, movies portray such characters.

The movie’s title is inspired by Tod Browning’s 1932 horror film Freaks. Though the movie was derided when it was initially released, it has actually found some respect decades later and is considered a historical and culturally significant piece of cinema. In Code of the Freaks, it is rather compelling to hear the responses of various disabled people with different afflictions and disadvantages to so many films often considered acceptable and worthy of accolades. Salome Chasnoff definitely presents some convincing arguments, commentary and criticism towards the Hollywood filmmakers and actors guilty of perpetuating stereotypes, rehashing tiresome cliches, and for simply insulting the intelligence and sensibilities of the real disabled. It is an educational and revelatory documentary I highly recommend for cinephiles, filmmakers, and storytellers.

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